NEW YORK — Equifax this week admitted that it misreported some consumers' credit scores, potentially affecting applications for mortgages, auto loans or credit cards.
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported that, between March 17 and April 6, the company sent out millions of incorrect credit scores for consumers. Yet Equifax said that less than 300,000 customers had their credit scores change by 25 points or more in either direction. Errors in how different elements in a credit report are weighted led to the swings, the company said.
A Florida woman who was forced into a pricey car loan as a result of an incorrect Equifax score is now suing the company. The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, notes that over the three-week period Equifax sent out erroneous scores, 25 million credit reports were pulled from the three credit-reporting bureaus. Given those figures, millions of Americans could have been affected by the error, the suit claims.
Although Equifax said the underlying information was not changed, a credit-score shift of 25 points can make the difference between being approved or denied financial products as well as affect how much interest you pay.
Read on to learn whether the errors affect you, and what you can do if your credit score was affected.
Did you apply for a loan or credit this spring?
Unless you applied for a loan, credit card or other financial products between March 17 and April 6, it's hard to know if you were affected by Equifax's scoring errors.
"If you haven't been monitoring your credit score and your credit report regularly, how would you know?" said Bruce McClary, senior vice president of membership and communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling
However, "If you went to a lender and were rejected … that might be a clue that you were possibly a victim," he said.
What did the lender say?
If you were turned down for a loan, or if you received worse financial terms because you were considered a credit risk, the lender is required to send you a notice explaining the decision.
McClary advises going back to the rejection notice to see what factors were involved. If you can't find it, call up the lender and ask if they can pull it from their record.
"You want to be very sure what caused the lender to decline your application," he said.
"It's not right to assume it's always going to be the credit score," McClary added. "Maybe your debt-to-income ratio wasn't what they wanted. Maybe your employment history didn't reflect the kind of stability they were looking for."
There are two types of notices lenders send when they deny credit, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you were denied based on information in a consumer report, the lender is required to send an "adverse action notice." If you received less generous terms, the lender must send a "risk-based pricing" notice.
If you applied for a credit card or loan and haven't received either notice, you were not adversely affected by the Equifax error, according to Nerdwallet.
Check your credit report
The next step is to request your credit report. Consumers are entitled to a free credit report periodically, which they can request from annualcreditreport.com. If anything in the report is wrong, dispute it. You can also try calling Equifax's support line at 1-888-378-4329.
Once any issues on your credit report have been corrected, "It's worth going back and asking for a reconsideration. That means applying for the loan again," McClary said.
McClary noted that the current case is unusual. Unlike financial institutions that have been hit by data breaches, Equifax has not reached out to customers to alert them about the issue.
The credit bureau did not answer questions from CBS MoneyWatch on whether it plans to contact customers.
Some lawmakers are now pushing the company to explain the error and compensate any customers who were affected.